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Removal of Google’s Review Extensions (And Why They Were Always A Pain, Anyway)

February 7, 2018
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Google review extensions, beloved by some and loathed by others, are going away. Starting, well, now, the advertising tool, which some found to be useful while others (like us) regarded as less than impactful as far as extensions go, are being phased out.

Google announced recently that review extensions will cease showing up in the search engine results page as of mid-January of this year. Come February, all review extensions and their performance data will be completely deleted. If you were using them, you will have to download an extension report in AdWords in order to save your data from your review extensions.

The “announcement” if you can even call it that, was made on Google’s advertising policies help document, and now shows up as this message on the page:

Review extensions will no longer show with ads starting January 2018.

In February 2018, review extensions will be deleted along with their performance data. To save this data, download an extensions report by going to Extensions on the Ads & extensions page in AdWords. If you’d like to continue showing more information with your ads, we recommend using sitelinks, callouts, and structured snippets extensions.

As you can see, Google has made recommendations on what you can do to replace the review extensions moving forward but makes no mention on whether or not they plan to replace the ad extension at some point in the future. This change should have little to no impact for many websites as the reviews displayed in the extensions come from non-Google third-party review sites.

A Brief Overview Of Google Review Extensions

Google’s review extensions existed to help companies showcase who they are as a business through overarching reviews about what customer’s experience was like doing business with the company.

The review extensions appeared in search results alongside your ad, and had to come from a third party site. The extension could show up as an added line below your search result, or next to it. Typically in a quoted format, the extension helped provide customers social proof and brand trust about your company, as well as capture more real estate in the search engine results page.

Related: Ad Extension Best Practices Every PPC Marketer Should Know

The caveat was that you had to make sure it was attributed and linked to its published source. This was a major pain point using review extensions as it would often get disapproved due to Google unable to verify with the source.

The rule from Google stated that a review extension ad must be “an accurate, current, credible, non-duplicative third-party review of the advertiser’s business.” The copy was visible in the text on the source page, but unlike other ads, you were required to link directly to that page. Naturally, Google had rules for what qualifies as a credible third-party source, saying:

  • The site must be accessible to the public, which means the user can’t be required to sign up or sign in to see this review
  • Paid endorsements aren’t allowed.
  • Reviews that don’t require extra clicks, such as opening a PDF or video, in order to access the review content.
  • No aggregate reviews and rankings from user review sites.

All seems pretty straightforward, right?

Well, the problem is — it wasn’t, and getting your review extension approved was often a real headache. Here’s a look at why.

Problems With Getting Review Extensions Approved

When Google review extensions rolled out, they seemed great! Here was an ad extension that made a promise to make your pages more relevant, increase your traffic and engagement, and improve trust with your target audience. All you had to do to make this happen was complete a short form to gain approval for your ad.

But therein lies the problem — the approval was hard to earn. There are many review extensions still floating out there waiting for approval, apparently now for all eternity.

Review extensions would constantly come back disapproved for the most mundane, tiny details. For instance, you would often get flagged for including the name of your business multiple times in the review. The review also had to be less than 12 months old, which could be tricky if it was a one-off publication. Ads also had to link back to the original source, which was a common reason for disapproval.  

Just like with their ad copy requirements, Google also would not allow you to change the review from its original wording. There could be no fluffing it up or adding punctuation here, and definitely no paraphrasing. Often, the rejections would seem arbitrary, and frustrating since it was a bot and algorithm working against you, not an actual person.

And even with full knowledge of all of these requirements, you could still get disapproved, and often would. What Google considered “paraphrasing” or a “trusted source” would become key points of massive frustration, and on and on a single ad could go without approval, despite tweak after tweak.

Related: Maximise Your Advertising Efforts With Affiliate Location Extensions 

Even when review extensions did get approved they often weren’t very successful. There was no guarantee the extension would show up every time because of a variety of factors, including your ad bid, the ad relevance, and available space on the search results page because of other extensions, information, etc.

When they showed up, the ROI just wasn’t there. Sometimes you would get a minor uptick in clicks, but for the most part, the ad extensions didn’t provide much of a boost. So often, the hoops you had to jump through to get the ads approved weren’t even worth the effort in the end.

That’s why Google deciding to get rid of third-party review extensions isn’t all that surprising at all. They were only just launched in 2013, but because they were so difficult to get approved, they were never very widely implemented.

In theory, they were a great idea. The review extensions could be a great way for businesses to tell their customers that a third-party source loves their brand and product. It’s no secret that good reviews are great for business — studies show that customers look for them when searching for products and services online. Though the extensions, businesses could share positive write-ups, third-party rankings, and awards they had earned with potential customers or even just an additional line of text beneath their ads in a Google search. It would give potential customers another reason to click and visit your page.

But it didn’t happen. So many were rejected, that the little editorial quotes never made it to their customers, and the positive traffic and trust-building never happened. It just didn’t quite pan out.  Some of the most trusted GTS (Google Trusted Sources) could even get denied in the review extension approval process. We’re talking a source as trusted as the Better Business Bureau.

So they just didn’t work out, and frankly, we’re not sad to see them go. Hopefully, Google comes up with some kind of replacement in the future, but they will need to rethink what qualifies as a trusted source and make some major adjustments to their paraphrasing protocol. Google review extensions were a great idea overall, but a major swing and a miss.

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